Klaus Zehelein

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Klaus Zehelein
Klaus Zehelein.jpg
Born (1940-09-05) 5 September 1940 (age 78)
ResidenceBerlin and Munich, Germany
Alma materGoethe University Frankfurt
Spouse(s)Marianne Weigmann

Klaus Zehelein (born September 5, 1940) is a German dramaturge. He was president of the Munich Bayerische Theaterakademie August Everding. Zehelein is also president of the association of German theaters, Deutscher Bühnenverein. For fifteen years, from 1991 until 2006, Zehelein was artistic director of the Staatsoper Stuttgart. Critic Gerhard Rohde, summing up Zehelein's theatre work at the Stuttgart opera, says "Zehelein does not view opera as a culinary phenomenon. For him opera is an extremely complex matter, where all arts – as well as social, philosophical, historic, utopic and other aspects – unite. This complexity of opera merits being perceived, being seen, being experienced; thus all works that end up performed on stage, are rigorously analyzed beforehand. He who says this results in thinned-out, merely sophisticated opera performances, missed out substantially in the Zehelein-Era in Stuttgart."[1]

Education and professional activity[edit]

Zehelein studied German literature, musicology and philosophy in the Goethe University Frankfurt. Among his teachers were the philosophers Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno. Although not a composer himself, Zehelein participated in the Darmstadt International Summer Courses for New Music from 1959 to 1966. Here he met composers Luigi Nono and Karlheinz Stockhausen, which would influence Zehelein's future artistic development.[2] Zehelein began his professional activity at the theater in Kiel in 1967, then became chief dramaturge in Oldenburg.

From 1977 to 1987 he worked at the Frankfurt opera, starting as chief dramaturge and becoming Opera director.[3][4] In Frankfurt Zehelein developed a practical but intellectually supported manner of interpreting and staging opera.[5] He worked with the stage director Hans Neuenfels on Busoni's Doktor Faust and Neuenfels' production of Aida – known as "Aida as cleaning-lady production".[6] With the east German director Ruth Berghaus and her designer Axel Manthey, he worked on Parsifal[7] and Wagner's Ring.[8] Zehelein moved to Hamburg in 1989 as artistic director of the Thalia Theater before being offered the position of artistic director at the Stuttgart opera.

Stuttgart opera 1991–2006[edit]

During Klaus Zehelein’s directorship, the Opernwelt magazine awarded the title Opera House of the Year to the Stuttgart opera. Six awards were given, in the years 1994, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002 und 2006.[9][10] Zehelein's era in Stuttgart is documented in the book Anders, ein Arbeitsbericht.[11]

Zehelein brought in Pamela Rosenberg as co-opera Intendant between 1991 and 2000[12] and Eytan Pessen as casting director from 2001 to 2006.[13] His Chief dramaturge was Juliane Votteler.

Zehelein worked with stage directors Ruth Berghaus,[14] Martin Kušej, Nicolas Brieger, Christoph Nel, Hans Neuenfels,[15] Peter Konwitchny, Joachim Schlömer, Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito.

Under Zehelein's direction the Stuttgart Opera was an ensemble based opera company. The sopranos Catherine Naglestad and Eva-Maria Westbroek were members of his permanent ensemble, tenor Jonas Kaufmann a frequent guest artist. Music directors were Gabriele Ferro and Lothar Zagrosek. The conductor Nicola Luisotti conducted frequently during Zehelein's era.[9][16][17]

In his fifteen years Zehelein explored most of the 20th century's opera standard repertoire, such as Berg's Wozzeck and Lulu, Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, as well as many lesser known works – Schreker's Die Gezeichneten, Busoni's Doktor Faust, Nono's Al gran sole carico d'amore and Intolleranza 1960. The work was performed over numerous seasons in a total of 29 performances.[18] Zehelein performed works of the composers Lachenmann, Jungy Pagh Pan, Hans Zender and Rolf Rihm.[19]

Zehelein argued that as Richard Wagner wrote the four music-dramas of the Ring over many years, changing dramatugical ideas in the process, each opera could be treated as a stand-alone work. Zehelein invited four directors for his ring, thus giving each opera dramatic independence. The resulting Stuttgarter Ring brought much discussion and recognition to the Stuttgart Opera.[20][21]

Zehelein created the Forum Neues Musiktheater, an institute attached to the Stuttgart Opera. "Here new compositions were not only studied and presented," says the critic Gerhard Rohde, "but more important was the work-nature of the institute: a laboratory, in which young, and not so young composers develop their ideas, and together with musicians, singers, dancers, and new media realize these ideas into a scenic reality"[1] Zehelein also founded the Junge Oper (an institute dedicated to performing opera for young audiences).[22][23]

Numerous CD and DVD productions document Zehelein's interest in modern works and new staging concepts. Stuttgart CD productions include Nono's Intolleranza 1960(1995) and Al Gran Sole Carico D'Amore (2001), as well as Lachenmann's Das Mädchen mit den Schwefelhölzern (2003); Zehelein's productions on DVD: Handel's Alcina (1999), Hartmann's Simplicius Simplicissimus (2005), Mozart's La finta giardiniera [2006) and Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen,(2003).[24]


Zehelein taught Sociomusicology at the Oldenburg university. He was also guest professor at the Minnesota state university, the Collège international de philosophie in Paris, the Institute for Theater arts at the University of Giessen and from 1986 to 1992 in the University of Applied Arts Vienna. As of 2006 he directs the dramaturgy division of the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and the Bavarian academy of Theatre in Munich.[25] His ideas about music theater dramaturgy are published in the book Music theater today[26]

Current activity[edit]

As of May 2003, Zehelein is president of the association of German theaters (Deutscher Bühnenverein). His political and moral influence is crucial in times of heavy cuts in public financing of the arts.[27][28] As of August 2006 Zehelein is also president of the Munich Bayerische Theaterakademie August Everding (Bavarian theatre academy) located in the Prinzregententheater. The Theaterakademie is a university level academy offering BA and MA courses in directing, acting, musical theatre, singing, opera, make up, dramaturgy, theatre- film- and television criticism, set and costume design.[29]


Zehelein received the German critics prize for his dramaturgical work at the Frankfurt opera in 1983. He also received the Order of Merit of Baden-Württemberg in 2001, for his work in the state of Baden-Wuertemberg. The first class Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany was granted him in the summer of 2006. In 2007 he became a member of the Bavarian Academy of arts (Bayerische Akademie der Schönen Künste) .[30]


  1. ^ a b Gerhard Rohne, Oper und Tanz, April, 2006, [1] - this quote is translated into somewhat simplified English.
  2. ^ Teresa Pieschacón-Raphael, Crescendo magazine Interview (in German)retrieved July, 2013
  3. ^ Michael Gielen describing work with Zehelein, in: Michael Gielen »Unbedingt Musik«: Erinnerungen, Insel Verlag,(2012), ISBN 978-3458358305
  4. ^ Axel Dielmann, Schafft Neus! ...: Richard Wagner in Frankfurt ( 2013), ISBN 978-3866380257
  5. ^ Work with Zehelein as dramaturge, in: Gottfried Knapp, Hans Diether Schall’s Stage sets, in Hans Dieter Schaal: Stage Architecture, Edition Axel Menges (Juni 2002), ISBN 978-3930698868, pp. 6–10
  6. ^ Clemens Risi, Shedding Light on the Audience: Hans Neuenfels and Peter Konwitschny Stage Verdi (And Verdians), Cambridge Opera Journal, Vol. 14, No. 1/2, Primal Scenes: Proceedings of a Conference Held at the University of California, Berkeley, 30 November – 2 December 2001, (2002), pp. 201–210
  7. ^ Opera Quarterly, Parsifal: A Workshop Conversation with Ruth Berghaus, Michael Gielen, Klaus Zehelein, and Axel MantheySpring 2006, Vol. 22 Issue 2, p349
  8. ^ Barry Millington, "The Ring according to Berghaus", The Musical Times, Vol. 128, No. 1735, (1987), pp. 491–492
  9. ^ a b Johanne Tremblay, "Klaus Zehelein and the Stuttgart State Opera: When tradition and innovation go hand in hand", International Journal of Arts Management, vol. 6, no. 3, V631, ISSN 1480-8986, 2004
  10. ^ Carola Meusel, "Explore Stuttgart's cultural heart: the opera house", The Citizen, January 27, 2011 Archived December 10, 2013, at the Wayback Machine retrieved July 2013
  11. ^ Klaus Zehelein (editor) Fünfzehn Spielzeiten an der Staatsoper Stuttgart 1991–2006: Ein Arbeitsbericht, raumzeit3, (2006), ISBN 978-3981100761
  12. ^ San Francisco classical voice, "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-01-12. Retrieved 2013-08-17.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link), retrieved July, 2013
  13. ^ Cheryl North, The Oakland Tribune, October 22, 2004, Review for Tristan and Isolde
  14. ^ Numerous mentions of Zehelein, in: Corinne Holtz, Ruth Berghaus. Ein Portrait, Europäische Verlagsanstalt(2005), ISBN 978-3-434-50547-1
  15. ^ Hans Neuenfels describing work with Zehelein, in: Hans Neuenfels, Das Bastardbuch: Autobiografische Stationen, btb Verlag (2012), ISBN 978-3442744961
  16. ^ Television documentary. Nobert Beilharz, Una Cosa rara – Klaus Zehelein und die Stuttgarter Oper (2003)
  17. ^ Juliane Votteler, Musiktheater heute. Klaus Zehelein. Dramaturg und Intendant, Europäische Verlagsanstalt/Rotbuch Verlag, Hamburg 2000,
  18. ^ Joachim Knape, editor, Medienrhetorik, Attempto (2004),ISBN 978-3893083701, p.78
  19. ^ Susanne Fontaine, "Tutzing, 7. bis 9. Juli 2006: 'Schweigen die Sirenen? Zur Aktualität des Mythos im zeitgenössischen Musiktheater'", Die Musikforschung, 59. Jahrg., H. 4 (October–December 2006), p. 383
  20. ^ Larson Powell, Review, Narben des Gesamtkunstwerks: Wagners Ring des Nibelungen by Richard Klein, Cambridge Opera Journal, Vol. 17, No. 3 (Nov., 2005), pp. 303–308
  21. ^ Reviews in the Opera Quarterly: 1)The Stuttgart Ring, 1999–2000.Opera Quarterly; Spring/Summer2007, Vol. 23 Issue 2/3, p321; 2)Moravcsik, Andrew Everyday Totalitarianism: Reflections on the Stuttgart Ring. Opera Quarterly; Winter 2010, Vol. 26 Issue 1, p131; 3)Ashman, Mike, "The Stuttgart Ring". Opera Quarterly; Winter 2010, Vol. 26 Issue 1, p. 149; 4) Papaeti, Anna, "Stuttgart Opera's Der Ring des Nibelungen on DVD". Opera Quarterly; Winter 2010, Vol. 26 Issue 1, p. 152
  22. ^ Andreas Hauff, Tristan und Isolde sind jungZehn Jahre Junge Oper Stuttgart, March, 2006, oper und tanz
  23. ^ "Junge Oper Stuttgart" on reseo.org. Retrieved 28 July 2013
  24. ^ David J. levin Richard Wagner, Fritz Lang, and the Nibelungen Princeton University Press, (1999), ISBN 978-0691049717.
  25. ^ Anke Roeder, Klaus Zehelein, Die Kunst der Dramaturgie: Theorie – Praxis – Ausbildung, Henschel Verlag, (2011), ISBN 978-3894876555
  26. ^ Juliane Votteler, Musiktheater heute. Klaus Zehelein. Dramaturg und Intendant, Europäische Verlagsanstalt/Rotbuch Verlag, Hamburg 2000
  27. ^ Daniel Ris,Unternehmensethik für den Kulturbetrieb: Perspektiven am Beispiel öffentlich-rechtlicher Theater (VS College) VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, 2012, ISBN 978-3531192321
  28. ^ Elaine Kelly (Editor), Amy Wlodarski (Editor) Art Outside the Lines: New Perspectives on GDR Art Culture. (German Monitor) [Paperback] p. 142, Rodopi (2011), ISBN 978-9042033412
  29. ^ Theaterakademie Website (partially in English)
  30. ^ Web site of the German national culture foundation (German: Kulturstiftung des Bundes), [2] Archived 2013-12-16 at the Wayback Machine, retrieved July, 2013


  • Articles in English
    • Paul Bekker, Notes from the Stage, Opera Quarterly; Spring/Summer2007, Vol. 23 Issue 2/3, p318 (Article on staging of Wagnerian operas under Zehelein)
    • David J. Levin, Introduction to Zehelein, The Opera Quarterly, Volume 23, Number 2–3, Spring/Summer 2007, pp. 318–320
    • David J. Levin, Richard Wagner, Fritz Lang, and the Nibelungen: The Dramaturgy of Disavowal, Princeton University Press (1999), ISBN 978-0691049717
    • Ian Conrich, Estella Tincknell, Editors, Film's Musical Moments (Music and the Moving Image), Edinburgh University Press (2006), ISBN 978-0748623457, p. 64
    • NY Times article about Zehelein and Rosenberg, Anne Midgette, In Opera By the Bay, Drama Offstage, July 29, 2001, [3], retrieved June 2013
  • Articles in German

External links[edit]